This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.

Post

How Can the U.S. Substantially Reduce Carbon Emissions?

John Miller's picture
Owner-Consultant Energy Consulting

During my Corporate career I provided manufacturing with power generation facilities’ technical-operations services and held different technical and administrative management positions.  In order...

  • Member since 2018
  • 1,283 items added with 93,829 views
  • Oct 22, 2012
  • 2248 views

Image

The Kyoto Protocol was developed to mitigate possible future global warming by substantially reducing Developed Countries’ greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.  Congress did not approve the Protocol or other formal commitments to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  With the possible recent evidence of increasing global warming or climate change, should the U.S. change course and begin substantially reducing future CO2 emissions?

Brief U.S. Carbon Regulation History – Most Countries approved the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which reduces signatory Developed Countries’ CO2 emissions up to 80-90% in calendar year (CY) 2050.  Even though the U.S. participated in developing the Kyoto Protocol, the Senate overwhelming rejected (95-0) the Protocol due to exempting China and India from CO2 reductions and possible negative U.S. economy impacts. 

The House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES, 2009).  ACES would reduce U.S. CO2 by 83% in CY2050 (CY2005 basis) and was advocated as being critical to transitioning the U.S. from fossil fuels to ‘affordable’ and clean renewable energy.  The EPA/CBO estimated the average Household cost of $150-200/yr. for ACES compliance.  The Senate did not address ACES or similar bills.

Potential ACES U.S. Carbon Emission Impacts – If the Senate-President approved ACES 2009 U.S. CO2 emissions would possibly be reduced to 1020 million metric tons per year (MMT/yr.) by CY2050.  Accomplishing this reduction requires major changes to current U.S. primary fuels mix and consumption.  In CY2011 coal/petroleum/natural gas fossil fuels accounted for 1870/2300/1300 MMT/yr. respectively of U.S. CO2 emissions.  The ACES 83% reduction target will effectively require eliminating nearly all coal and petroleum consumption, and significant natural gas consumption.  Although limiting U.S. CO2 emissions towards 1020 MMT/yr. may be technically feasible, the effects on the Transportation, Electric, Residential, Commercial and Industrial End-use sectors, and the overall economy could be very problematic if reductions are not carefully planned and managed. 

The major weakness of ACES is that the (EIA) projected CO2 reductions do not directly achieve the 83% reduction target.  Full compliance required purchasing substantial foreign carbon credits.  This carbon credit compliance strategy could significantly compromise actually reducing future CO2 emissions and mitigating possible climate change impacts.

Reasonable Actions to Possibly Reduce U.S. Carbon Emissions by up to 83% – The following lists rational actions to substantially reduce future U.S. CO2 emissions by CY2050.  Key assumptions: CYs 2011-2050 energy consumption growth is totally offset by increased efficiency improvements and no carbon credits are used.  Data sources are primarily EIA MER annual totals or averages.

A. Reduced Coal – 93% of coal is consumed in the Electric Power sector and most the balance of coal is consumed in the Industrial sector.  Coal provides ‘base-load’ (fully dispatchable) power generation.  Analysis indicates all Electric sector coal power could reasonably be replaced by zero carbon nuclear (base-load capacity) and renewables.  Due to the variable, non-dispatchable nature of wind/solar renewable power (until reasonably efficient, industrial scale power storage is actually developed), the majority of coal power must be replaced by nuclear.  All coal power (ST-short tons)could reliably be replaced by a combination of 30% renewable wind power and 70% nuclear power as follows:

 Image

Further coal reduction should not be planned since this action could negatively impact the Industrial sector’s output.  Estimated new nuclear/wind power capacity required to replace 93% of U.S. coal consumption is 1735 gigawatt-hours per year (GWH/yr.).

B. Reduced Petroleum – 70% of petroleum is consumed by the Transportation sector and 24% by the Industrial sector.  The Transportation sector consumes primarily petroleum motor fuels and Industrial sector uses petroleum largely for feedstocks and heating fuels.  The balance of petroleum is primarily consumed as Residential and Commercial sectors’ heating fuels.  Analysis indicates the Transportation petroleum consumption could be feasibly reduced by about 63% with new ‘electric vehicles’ (EV).  This would include replacing 80% of light duty vehicles and 50% medium duty commercial vehicles with EV’s.  Aircraft, marine transport and the Military would continue to use petroleum at current levels.

The Industrial, Residential and Commercial sectors could feasible replace significant amounts of petroleum heating fuels with heat pumps and other electric power technologies.  Based on these changes, current U.S. petroleum consumption (MBD = million barrels per day) could be reduced as follows:

Image
 

The 9.8 MBD reduction in petroleum consumption would eliminate all imports and a significant amount of existing domestic production.  Further petroleum reductions should not be planned since this action could negatively impact the mobility of most Residents, and the Industrial sector’s outputs.  Estimated new nuclear/wind power capacity required to replace 52% of U.S. petroleum consumption (by EV’s and heat pumps) is 1570 GWH/yr.

C. Reduced Natural Gas – Industrial/Electric/Residential sectors consume 33%/31%/19% respectively of total natural gas.  Natural gas is used primarily for heating and turbine/motor fuels.  Some of these heating/motor fuels can be replaced by a combination of heat pumps and electric motors.  All Residential gas appliances could also be replaced by electric technologies.  Due to the large increase in variable, renewable wind power and the need to maintain power grids reliabilities, analysis indicates no significant reduction of Electric sector natural gas capacity should be planned.  Based on maintaining existing natural gas (peaking) power and electric technology changes, natural gas balances (CF = cubic foot) could be reduced as follows:

Image
 

Further reductions should not be planned since this action could negatively impact Commercial and Industrial sectors’ outputs, and put the electric power grids’ reliabilities at risk.  Estimated new nuclear/wind power capacity required to replace 27% of U.S. natural gas consumption (by heat pumps and electric drivers/motors/appliances) is 865 GWH/yr.

Feasible U.S. CO2 Reductions from Substantially Reducing End-use Sector Fossil Fuels – Based on the above analysis and actions to replace fossil fuels with zero carbon nuclear and wind power, U.S. total CO2 emissions could be reasonably and reliably reduced as follows:

Image

This analysis indicates that based on existing proven technologies U.S. CO2 emission for CY2050 can only be reasonably reduced by 62% (vs. 83% ACES target).  Further reducing U.S. CO2 means some combination of significantly restricted Transportation usage, and shutting down significant Industrial and Commercial activities/outputs; i.e. reduced consumption or increased imports.  Increasing foreign goods imports does not reduce world CO2 emissions and increases U.S. trade deficits.

Costs to Reduce U.S. CO2 Emissions by 62% – Total estimated new zero carbon power generation capacity required to replace coal, petroleum and natural gas is 4170 GWH/yr.  This would change U.S. electric power mix and capacities as follows:

Image

The largest source of electric power would become nuclear followed by wind.  Power grids reliabilities should be reasonably stable with variable renewable power limited to about 21%.  Total new nuclear + wind power capital costs are conservatively estimated at $3.5 Trillion (2010 cost basis).  This is an enormous investment, and amortized over 35+ years is estimated to increase average delivered power costs by about 50% over current prices.  Although this represents a $570 Billion/yr. increased total U.S. power costs, nearly all these energy cost increases would be offset by reduced fossil fuels consumption costs.  The majority of CY2050 fossil fuel cost savings would be due to reduced petroleum consumption and imports. 

Even though increased power costs will be almost totally offset by reduced fossil fuel costs, consumers will still be required to pay for new EV’s and associated infrastructure, new electric heat pumps, appliances, etc. and the maintenance of these new technologies.  Estimated total annual costs (indirect/direct) are $275 Billion for all consumers.  This means the average U.S. Household’s annual expenses will increase by about $2100/yr. (2010 cost basis), which is ten times the original EPA/CBO estimates for ACES 2009 compliance.

Not included in the above cost estimates are the assumed energy efficiency improvement costs and other possible indirect costs.  If future energy inflation and the cost effects on most goods and services exceed increases in average Household income, the economic impacts of reducing U.S. CO2 emissions by 62% could be significantly greater than the estimated $2100/Household-year.

Global Impacts of Reducing U.S. CO2 Emissions by 62% – In recent years most Developed Countries have made significant progress in reducing their CO2 emissions.  Developing Countries CO2 emissions have, however, increased very significantly.  Refer to the following EIA data (based on fossil fuels consumption) of the top six World CO2 emitters:

Image

Up to CY2005 the U.S. was the largest emitter of World CO2 emissions.  In CY2006 China became No.1 and continues to grow at alarming rates.  Despite not formally approving the Kyoto Protocol, U.S. CO2 emission reductions are similar to other Developed Countries.  The obvious gap in the Kyoto Protocol is exempting Developing Countries and the continuous world CO2 emissions growth.  Even though this analysis shows that the U.S. can reasonably reduce current CO2 emissions by 3380 MMT/yr. after investing many $Trillions in future years, China’s current CO2 emissions growth rate will likely offset all possibly U.S. CY2050 CO2 reductions within the next few years.

Should the U.S. Substantially Reduce CO2 Emissions? – Reducing current U.S. CO2 emissions by 62% will increase average Household’s expenses by at least 5%/yr.  This will substantially reduce Middleclass Household discretionary income for purchasing other goods and services beyond basic family necessities.  Further CO2 reductions are feasible, but will require very significant changes to the U.S. economy and likely most Resident’s current standard of living.

How much reducing U.S. CO2 emissions by 62% can tangibly help reduce climate change is very uncertain.  The largest obvious risk is the expected growth in China’s economy that will more than offset all economically feasible reductions in U.S. CO2 emissions.  Possible negative impacts on the overall U.S. economy by redirecting $Trillions of investment into more costly zero carbon energy supply projects is an additional concern.  Another possible risk is the ongoing debate and level of uncertainty as to the actual impacts of CO2 on climate change and whether substantially reducing anthropological sources will tangibly benefit the U.S. or the world.

How to Manage Carbon Reductions and Impacts – Substantially reducing U.S. fossil fuels consumption could be achieved by a number of regulatory strategies.  Politically popular cap-n-trade and carbon credits are problematic.  Besides effectively increasing costs further for average Households (above the levels estimated in this analysis), actual reductions in CO2 emissions by use of carbon credits are significantly uncertain.  A more effective strategy could be through maximum free market engagement (not cap-n-trade).  A more promising strategy would involve the Federal Government creating a combination of reasonably aggressive ‘zero carbon power standards’ and ‘increased efficiency standards’.  Rather than having the Government pick winners/losers, the free markets would decide which new energy mix/efficiency technologies should be developed to meet zero carbon power/efficiency standards.  The Government’s role should be limited to supporting energy R&D and helping facilitate the new power plants and transmission & distribution lines construction permitting processes.  Limited duration zero carbon power production subsidies should also be considered, but these must be managed within current-future Federal deficit spending.

Another factor that should be included in the new CO2 emission reduction regulatory strategy is the need to reduce petroleum fossil fuels first to offset the added costs of zero carbon power and other technologies.  If only coal is first replaced with nuclear/wind power, no reduction in overall energy cost would result.  This effectively doubles the costs of overall energy expenses for average Middleclass Households; consuming up to at least 10% of future average annual incomes.  Another benefit of requiring initial CO2 reductions come first from reduced petroleum consumption is U.S. energy security.  This analysis shows that reducing petroleum fossil fuels substantially increases U.S. energy security by eliminating all oil imports. 

Putting priority on replacing petroleum with nuclear/wind power also effectively ‘hedges’ the risks-benefits of reducing U.S. CO2 emissions.  The performance risks of climate change improvements could effectively be hedged or reduced by initially requiring that all CO2 reductions result from reducing petroleum consumption-imports.  Even if China increases their CO2 emissions greater than feasible U.S. reductions, the potential lack of climate change improvement would be effectively offset by the value of increased U.S. energy security.

In Conclusion – The U.S. could reasonably achieve a 62% CO2 emission reduction, but the costs of replacing fossil fuels will be quite substantial and the impacts on the economy uncertain.  To reasonably reduce future CO2 emissions a new regulatory strategy is needed to properly manage costs, risks and overall performance.  If future climate change performance proves reducing CO2 emissions are ineffective, than the plan should be changed to more cost effective alternatives such as investing in ‘adaptation’ projects to best manage uncontrollable global warming impacts.

Image: CO2 Emissions via Shutterstock

Discussions
Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Oct 22, 2012

Since our concern is not CO2 "emissions" but is accumulated CO2, this article (like so many) is only half the equation at best.

The other half of the equation is Carbon sequestration in forests, but most especially soils. And this can only be accomplished by developing fresh water resources, improving food production methods, and expanding fauna and habitat. Something we know how to do, have done well before, and need to do much more.

Vast areas of the world are drying up, yet growing population demands more space and food resources. A once dispersed human population is now confined to ever more dense and violent urban centers.

People seem to throw a lot of numbers around as "facts." Geographic and time coordinate numbers (etc.) can be facts. But the numbers can put you in a symphony orchestra concert or in a bar fight; and that is the difference. Numbers don't impress me, symphonics do.

Joel Brown's picture
Joel Brown on Oct 22, 2012

Paul, I'm completely on board with you in several areas and diametrically opposed on at least one important one.  Let's start with my agreements.

Ending our nuclear neurosis is certainly a list topper.  The French are somewhere north of 75% provision of electricity via nuclear plants, with plans to grow further in spite of recent events.  Key to that discussion is doing something about nuclear waste beyond the "Oh, let's just leave it laying around" strategy that we currently pursue.  The reprocessing of spent fuel rods could reduce residual waste volume by an order of magnitude and total required storage times by two or more orders.  Not to mention capturing part of the 90% wastage of fuel created by the current "process".  My understanding is that the present, most common design for reactors would need to be changed to make such reprocessing functional, but that is (well) beyond my nuclear expertise.

The big problem for any proposed nuclear build out is time:  it takes 5 - 8 years just to get a license renewed for a nuke these days.  Public, hence political resistace to new plants is profound and seemingly intractable.  Some of those goal deadlines will have come and gone before we can replace the almost-half of power production that is presently coal-fired.

Wind is great, but does have issues.  To begin with, it is useful neither for base-load nor for peaking service in power generation.  Most power analysts attribute zero capacity to wind because of its intermittent nature.  Here in the Pacific Northwest we are overbuilt in wind, causing some significant problems with reliability of the grid.  Wind should be pursued, but it is less a solution than many think.


Where I disagree with you most is in our use of natural gas, at least as a transitional fuel.  I'm surprised that you did not note that due to the current low price of NG and its displacement of coal in electric generation, we've rolled CO2 emission levels back to the early 90s.  Much more along that line could be achieved, most particularly if we'd stop burning coal and begin to convert it to hydrocarbon liquids.  The latter would not reduce carbon emissions, but it would contribute to national energy security.  Even more carbon savings could be produced by employing the relative abundance of NG to break oil's monopoly on transportation fuels.  Shifting to alcohols as a transition fuel from liquid hydrocarbons would result in significant carbon reductions relatively quickly.


Finally, you've touched on the actual source of the ground glass in any such cake mix:  China and its increasing use of coal for just about everything.  There's little the U.S. can do to offset that increase.  Except, perhaps, teaching them about hydraulic fracturing.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Oct 22, 2012

Rick, as you are probably aware, anthropological CO2 from fossil fuels only account for a few percent of total carbon emissions released into the atmosphere each year.  The vast majority of annual CO2 releases come from natural land and water bio-/eco-systems.   Nearly all CO2 emissions, with the exception of a few parts per million annually in recent decades, are re-absorbed through many of the natural processes including the ones you have referenced.

Yes, I am a numbers guy, with experience in most energy sources/cycles, business/economics and the natural sciences.  When I hear or read about how international agreements, new technologies, affordable/sustainable green energy policies, etc. can help save the world I often do detailed analyses to determine how reasonable the claims can feasibly be and how to possibly improve upon popular ideas or opinions.  In the case of U.S. CO2 emissions and how reasonable it is to substantially reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, working the numbers helps clarify how economically feasible various alternatives can be to fossil fuels.

John Miller

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Oct 23, 2012

Theenergycentrist, The objective of the posting analysis was to evaluate the lowest carbon options for reasonably and substantially reducing U.S. CO2 emissions by mid-century.  As you have stated, nuclear power (advanced fission or breeder reactor) faces many challenges.  France is an excellent example or model with the vast majority of their electric power (75-80%) being supplied by nuclear.  With the recent Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster, using this zero carbon base/peaking power technology will possibly face increased scrutiny and permitting delays.

Processing spend nuclear fuel has been an extremely political issue since nuclear became a significant part of U.S. power supply back in the 1960’s.  Even though many countries in Europe and Asia have routinely reprocessed their and others spent nuclear fuel rods for decades, the U.S. has prohibited reprocessing due the ‘nuclear proliferation’ fears.  With the recent blocking of the Yucca Mountain spent fuel storage facility, nuclear waste continues to accumulate at most nuclear power plants.

Wind power was selected due to its recent success compared to all other renewable power.  Although, increased hydroelectric power and associated pumped storage would be ideal, upstream/downstream environmental concerns and strong opposition make this source of renewable power likely much less feasibly than wind power.  Your comment on over building wind power in the Pacific Northwest is a very important point.  Due to the unreliable, variable characteristic of wind power, most people do not recognize this short coming of this and other (solar) renewable power sources, and the possible detrimental impact on local power grid’s reliability. 

Wind has expanded very significantly in recent years due to very generous State and Federal support (financial and renewable power standard requirements) and being able to take advantage of existing excess, available natural gas peaking power plants.  In other words, when the wind slows and wind power drops off line (uncontrollably), the loss of power generation must be replaced by existing natural gas peaking power capacity.  As wind power capacity is expanded, the amount of available excess peaking power capacity can be exceeded, as you describe has apparently already happened in the Northwest.  This lack of adequate backup peaking power will become an increasing problem throughout much of the U.S. in the future as variable wind/solar power continues to expand.  Localities that have not properly designed and balanced their power grid systems supply-demand, taking into account the increased amount of variable renewable power will likely face growing brown-/black-outs in the future.

The reason why I did not include added natural gas power into the mix was due to the original premise of minimizing total U.S. CO2 emissions.  I have a previous posting that analyzed replacing all coal power with natural gas and wind power (Re. http://theenergycollective.com/jemillerep/98281/costs-replace-us-coal-power-clean-energy).  This analysis indicates that replacing all coal power would effectively double current natural gas consumption.  As you are probably aware, this would turn the existing ‘excess’ market supply with record low prices rapidly into a ‘short’ market.  Natural gas prices would increase accordingly.

Lastly, using natural gas as a motor fuel is another option, but the carbon emissions are greater than converting ICE motor vehicles to EV’s fueled by zero carbon nuclear and wind power.  The problem with coal-to-liquids and biofuels is that once again the carbon emissions are greater than EV’s power by nuclear/renewable power.  Coal-to-liquids, be it relatively expensive, can definitely improve energy security if carbon emissions were not a concern.  Biofuels, however, are problematic.  Corn ethanol consumes almost as much energy (power, transportation fuels, etc.) as is available in the finished motor fuel.  Other biofuels such as cellulosic, algae, etc. generally have negative ‘net energy values’ (i.e. consume more energy than is produced in the biofuel; full lifecycle).

John Miller

Paul Ebert's picture
Paul Ebert on Oct 23, 2012

The U.S. has actually already done what may be the most hopeful and helpful thing to offset China's increase, that being to give them the design of the LFTR.  They seem to be pursuing it in earnest which is good news globally, but a missed opportunity for the U.S (or so it currently appears).  Teaching them hydraulic fracturing would help as well.  Have they expressed interest in the technology?

Paul Ebert's picture
Paul Ebert on Oct 23, 2012

John,

A very helpful analysis.

I'm curious about what you based your cost projections for nuclear on.  As I'm sure you're aware,  if we could find a way to get to commercialization of some of the more promising next generation designs, the costs of building and operating plants could go down substantially.  I think we would find that the need for regulatory oversight could go down significantly as well.  Further, if we could shift from uranium to thorium, the price of the fuel could be pretty much negligible based on its relative abundance and the efficiency with which it could be burned.

Thanks,

- Paul

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Oct 23, 2012

Paul, I try to use publicly available data where possible.  One of the best sources that cover most power generation technologies I have found is the EIA “Updated Capital Cost Estimates for Electricity Generation Plants (Re. http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/beck_plantcosts/pdf/updatedplantcosts.pdf).  Using this Government data provides consistency and transparency of analyzing different future energy source mixes.  These data, however, cover only on-site plant construction cost estimates and must be adjusted to include the added costs of off-site/infrastructure (including power line connections into existing grids), design & construction/project management, land, permitting, etc.

Unfortunately the EIA data only covers advanced nuclear uranium (light water reactor) technologies built in recent years and not the potentially more promising breeder reactor technologies.  A discussion on the EIA’s view of reactor designs can be found on their website (Re. http://www.eia.gov/cneaf/nuclear/page/analysis/nucenviss_2.html).  As you are aware, breeder reactors look very promising during the early development of nuclear power, but fell out of favor from a combination of cost and political reasons.  With the growing issue of spent nuclear fuel management, the fact that reducing future carbon emissions will require a very large expansion of nuclear power, and possibly the growing economic advantages of breeder reactors such the thorium technology you have referenced, it’s probably time to begin re-evaluating the future of our nuclear power industry.

By the way, if you have found recent references on the projected costs of installed breeder reactor power generation technologies, I would appreciate knowing where to find this data.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Oct 23, 2012

Paul, China has already begun drilling and using hydraulic fracturing technology to tap their potentially very extensive shale gas deposits (Re. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/21/china-shale-gas-well).  China originally got into the business by manufacturing and selling some of the equipment such as the pumps used to inject water and chemicals for fracturing shale gas deposits.  The EIA reports China’s gas reserves could exceed the U.S. (Re. http://www.eia.gov/analysis/studies/worldshalegas/). 

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Oct 25, 2012

Willem, You make some very good points.  Although my new wind power cost estimates are an improvement over routine DOE/EIA estimates they are still ‘budget’ quality and could significantly increase after taking into account other factors such as 20-year wind turbine life as your state, and using more realistic capacity factors (CF).  Based on my past experience with steam/gas turbines, electric power generators, and large (500+ HP) electric motors I have assumed that wind turbines can be overhauled or rebuilt (install new bearings, armatures, etc.) every 10-20 years as necessary to extend useful lives to over 30 years.  This may not be feasible particularly for offshore turbines (general salt corrosion) and if the overhaul costs exceed a new replacement rotor & stator assemblies.  In most cases as long as the new replacement turbines are installed on existing wind turbine structures/foundations and reuse existing infrastructures, the cost should be a fraction of new grass root wind turbine installations.

A renewable, variable power supply level of 21% (of total grid power as estimated in my analysis) may be quite a challenge to keep the power grids stable.  My first assumption is that state-of-art ‘smart grid’ technology would be installed to substantially improve existing power grid supply-demand controls and stability.  This may also require increasing ‘interruptible’ power supply to a significant part of the power grid commercial/industrial customers.

The EIA normally uses an average CF of 30% for wind turbines (I duplicated this data in the analysis for consistency), which is probably at the upper extreme and possibly greater than average wind turbine installations as you state.  My study of wind turbines find that 30% CF’s apply more to offshore than typical onshore wind turbines.  Back when I lived in Texas, a contact who worked for the local Utility Co. told me they typically budgeted a CF of about 19% for power supplied from their wind farms.  As you are aware, reduced CF means increased wind power installed capacity and cost for a given average power generation supplied to the grid.

Yes, my estimated costs for new nuclear/wind power could increase by at least another $1.0 Trillion.  If CF’s are significantly reduced (from the EIA 30% to your 25% estimate), the useful life of average wind turbines cannot be significantly extended through routine maintenance & overhauls, and if power grid stability requires installing addition natural gas peaking power the costs will increase very significantly.   These increased cost factors will further increase the average future power costs by probably another 2 cents per KWH.  This added expense further increases the cost burden on the average U.S. Household for substantially reducing U.S. CO2 emissions in the future.

Thanks for the feedback and added data.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Oct 25, 2012

Willem, I agree with much of your ideas.  The reason why I have chosen wind power (in my analysis) as a possible alternative to coal is its recent history of being the most successful alternative compared to all other renewable energy sources.  What many people do not seem to understand is that all forms of energy have benefits and costs, and involve trade-offs.  In the case of wind, it’s clearly more expensive than coal, natural gas and nuclear, particularly as the increased power mix levels get above 5-10% and begin significantly (negatively) impacting power grids’ reliabilities.  Also what many pure green energy advocates appear to most often overlook are the environmental impacts including the large killings of birds and bats, and the potential safety issues to people (the reason why entry restrictions are required at wind farms; spinning blade & potential failure hazards).

The problem we face is better educating the public on the environmental problems and hazards of all forms of energy including renewables, in addition to the added costs.  In the future, if the U.S. truly intends to develop clean and economic alternatives to fossil fuels, all forms of cleaner energy must be seriously considered, including nuclear, hydroelectric (major reservoir) and natural gas.  These have huge public perception issues due to the historic fear of radioactive contamination (even though the U.S. history has been stellar since Three Mile Island), upstream/downstream environmental impacts of dams (even though this technology facilitates ‘pumped storage’, the only proven commercial scale power storage option that would make building large amounts of variable wind/solar actually feasible), and of course, tapping the most promising and lower carbon energy source from shale deposits (natural gas and possibly growing oil shale production).

 

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Oct 25, 2012
Willem, you make a good case for reducing U.S. carbon emissions by a combination of nuclear and natural gas.  Nuclear can definitely replace all existing base-load power capacity and natural gas would be used for peaking power.  I’m curious, how does France provide peaking power supply to keep their power grids’ stable and reliable?
John Miller's picture
John Miller on Oct 26, 2012

Willem, thanks for the valuable added data and information.  I'm glad to see you are keeping current on clean energy developments in Europe, which can help us better understand the advantages and potential problems to be avoided as the U.S. transitions from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources in the future.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Oct 26, 2012

Willem, Agreed, to transition from coal to natural gas and nuclear will be very expensive.  Renewable wind (and solar) will have niche market applications limited by power storage technology and availability (hydro pumped storage is all we have now).  I believe between my estimates and yours we have established a reasonably total cost range.  In the near future natural gas open/closed cycle gas turbines will likely lead the way ahead of gasified coal.  With the EPA's mission to shutdown current coal consumption, this clearly makes natural gas the fuel of choice; saving coal energy supplies for far future generations.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Oct 26, 2012

John, as a numbers guy you need to include the most important numbers. Fossil carbon advocates always ignore O2 is part of their energy product. Where do you mine O2? Of course from the public domain. Where is the O2 generated ? Of course from plants. So now that we've decided to plow up most plant life we are all supposed to be focused on rising CO2. This is some crazy analysis we are seeing.

O2 is the real fuel in combustion. Aluminum metal burns, iron rusts, hydrogen becomes water. Your fossil carbon industry just has another material that has proven much more useful. Now the battery industry has figured out if they don't have to carry around O2 (or various other toxic oxides) they can save on battery costs.

When we see the fossil carbon industry include the O2 reactant, then we will begin to see numbers related to energy costs. The irony is to often see fossil carbon advocates dismiss photosynthesis as "too slow" for the most simplistic of biofuels production methods. Thus putting us all in full depletion mode for both O2 and fossil carbon.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Oct 26, 2012

Rick, without photosynthesis we would not be here and the earth would be just like another Venus.  The factor most often over looked is that increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations actually increase plant growth rates.  With the recent interest in algae based biofuels, researchers have found that injecting CO2 into closed-circulating systems is a critical variable to maximizing production.  The same physical factor has been found in growing some food crops within enclosed greenhouse environments.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Oct 26, 2012

John, CO2 concentrations effecting plant growth rates is not new knowledge at all. I have citied the C3 vs C4 synthesis pathway differed by one being a photon limited pathway, the other a CO2 limited pathway. And that corn is of the more rare of the two, and most accelerated by CO2. Yet I always beg forgiveness for forgetting specifics since it was learned as a minor mentioned issue in biochem, 35 years ago. Sorry, it might not be exactly 35 years ago, I forget.

The point remains, please don't use a collage of numbers to confuse discussion too much. Your contributions to this group are excellent. And we need oil. But many issues must be included before we announce "game over, issue resolved."

John Miller's picture
Thank John for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »